Restructuring Rundown

April 30th, 2012
An April 26 committee meeting ©UMNS via Flickr

We coined a new term here in the Ministry Matters offices this morning: MethoNerd.

Definition: those folks on the edge of their seats following every event at the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial General Conference, going on now in Tampa, Fla.

With some of those people in our midst, we certainly said it with love as we discussed with varying levels of interest and frustration the events of Saturday evening at General Conference, which some are even calling the “General Administration Debacle.”

I became aware of the breaking news myself Saturday night when my husband, a United Methodist pastor, noticed the #gc2012 Twitter feed exploding around 8:30 central time. As many have noted, Twitter is definitely the fastest way to follow the events in Tampa, followed (it seems to me) by GC2012 Conversations. But from all the news and blogs I've seen, here's the rundown for anyone needing the highlights.

So what exactly happened Saturday night?

In layman’s terms (Well, not exactly—the average layperson in the UMC has no idea what “CTA/IOT” means, and probably doesn’t care, but at least in terms that a merely moderate MethoNerd can understand) the General Administration Committee was mandated to adjourn at 9:30 p.m. without having made a recommendation on the church’s proposed restructuring plans. None of the three major proposals received enough votes to make it to the main floor. (Read a summary of the various proposals from Jeremy Smith. Updated: see also his April 30 comparison and analysis on restructuring.)

This doesn’t mean that all restructuring legislation is dead in the water, however. According to UMNS blogger Heather Hahn’s breaking news report,

“proponents of both the Call to Action [IOT proposal] and Methodist Federation for Social Action can bring their original legislation printed in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate to the floor to be amended and debated upon obtaining 20 signatures (according to the rules adopted earlier in the week). Plan B proponents can also bring their legislation forward as a substitute motion.”

Frustration, Outrage, and a Rogue iPhone

There was intense frustration over the mandated stopping time and what that meant for many good proposals that the committee simply didn’t have time for. Rebekah Miles wrote about an unfortunate pattern she noticed:

“Major petitions sponsored by boards and agencies appear to have had a better chance of being considered that those by individuals, churches and annual conferences. It seemed to me, also, that petitions related to local pastors were disproportionally represented on the 'not-considered' list.”

Stronger, however, was the frustration—even outrage—about the manner in which the committee session was conducted and the behavior of delegates clamoring for votes. Notable among those tweeting from the event was Andy Oliver, known as @gatordukie, who broadcasted a rogue video of the committee meeting through his iPhone. As Oliver reflected on his blog,

“Without the live stream in the room, people on the outside would have had to rely on the 140 character tweets of others and the news reports to come later.  They would have missed the utter chaos, the impatient tone of the moderator, and the visuals of people telling others to vote or not to vote in the closing chaotic seconds. The response from twitter was shock. Last night those around the world witnessed the UMC at her worst.”

[Note: Oliver did not archive the videos, so they are no longer available for viewing online.]

How Did This Happen?

SMU professor Maria Dixon Hall gave her take on Saturday night’s events, beginning by saying “It ain’t Adam [Hamilton]’s fault,” and ending with concern over how Central Conference delegates were used as pawns. Between those two good points was a good rundown of where each of the main proposals failed.

"The IOT, which I thought had some very good points, simply didn’t do the hard work of communicating the plan in a way that didn’t frame it as a forgone conclusion but as a starting point for the discussion on reorganization. . . The IOT didn’t leave the audience with a sense of  ‘shared’ creation and ‘shared’ future—it reeked at times of what I believe what an unintended (God, I hope it was unintended) exclusion of voices.

". . . What the authors of Plan B did was understand the feeling of exclusion that IOT left their audience with and exploited it. Exploited it they did. They promised everything to everybody especially the Central Conference delegates and Agencies. In the end, it was a beautiful tactic but nonetheless it was a tactic, which backfired when it got to the small committee assigned to ‘tweak’ it.

"God love the MFSA. They never expected to be at the table to shape this legislation, so when they found themselves able to ‘tweak’ Plan B, they were overwhelmed and ill-prepared."

Hope for Holy Conferencing

I have to admit, when my husband prayed for those in Tampa during worship yesterday morning, praying for them the oft-used term "holy conferencing," my cynicism flared up. Even on the best of days at General Conference, one expects heated debates and protest demonstrations from various groups, but from all accounts, Saturday night seemed to have been a much bigger blowup than anyone expected.

With the conversation essentially being deferred to the main floor, will we see a repeat of Saturday night in a larger venue on Wednesday, when the proposals are expected to be brought for general session consideration?

Is there hope for holy conferencing?

Stephen Drachler, a lay delegate from the Susquehanna Conference, writes that he believes so.

The chaotic ending of the work of the 2012 General Conference’s General Administration Committee puts to shame the worst machinations we all decry in the today’s secular politics. This was Holy Conferencing at its absolute worst.

The committee’s failure to reach any kind of agreement on a better structure for our denomination reflects how much we have come to allow manipulation, back-room dealing, whisper campaigning and a lust for control and power take over our legislative processes. . . . Yet, out of the chaos, I believe there is a solution out there. It’s contained in pieces of the IOT (Interim Operations Team), MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action), and Plan B Coalition proposals.

Out of Saturday night’s chaos, God remains present, offering another opportunity to discern God’s will for each of us individually, and for the denomination we all profess to love.

What are your thoughts about Saturday night's committee meeting and the proposals for church restructuring?

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